10 Questions with Girol Karacaoglu and Graham Hassall


Q1: Can you briefly describe what social policy is?

A traditional answer has been that social policy focused on ‘welfare’ for the needy plus, more broadly, public health and education services; but our book makes the point that the scope of social policy has expanded, and now considers the ‘well-being’ of all citizens — i.e. supporting citizens in living the lives they value.  A second important feature of the definition concerns the process of policy-making, which should ideally be as inclusive as possible, should include consultation with those affected by the policy, be based on accurate information, and on sound analysis of how well current policies have done and of the range of options available to improve on them. ‘Social policy’ is actually a lens through which to view the whole work of government.


Q2: This significant work is a successor to Cheyne, O’Brien and Belgrave’s Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand, last revised in 2008. What made you decide that a new book was needed?

Social Policy by Cheyne, O’Brien and Belgrave, published in 2008, remains an important study of social policy in New Zealand. We consider our edited book as complementary to it rather than its replacement, because the new book also examines the years of the Fifth National Government (2008–2017 — John Key & Bill English), and anticipates the shifts in policy emphasis under the Sixth Labour Government, which was elected in 2017 under Prime Minister Ardern. It includes chapters on sectors not considered in depth in the earlier study, such as housing, education, labour regulation, taxation, gender, and social services; and also includes detailed chapters on the institutions of government and on such vital aspects of the policy process as design, implementation, and evaluation. We were also motivated to produce a new study covering new developments in policy practice, including the influence of digital technologies (or digital Government), which have enlarged the opportunities for use of statistics and ‘big data’ (as well as making their use both technically and morally complex); of globalization (which is influencing sites of policy-making); and of such new parameters in decision-making as dealing with uncertainty and complexity.


Q3: Does it follow a similar framework?

Both books commence by considering the New Zealand context and the ideologies that have driven government choices. But the new book includes 27 chapters that address four themes: from political theory to the practice of government, the New Zealand landscape, policy design and implementation, and key policy domains.


Q4: What will students of social policy get from this book?

We think the flow of the book helps the reader gain insights into how ideas about social governance are enacted through the interaction of political and legal institutions, public sector policy processes, and the general public and stakeholders that these institutions and processes are established to serve.


Q5: You have assembled a large team of contributing writers with impressive credentials. What were you looking for in contributors?

As editors we had a number of criteria for selecting contributors, which ended up numbering 47. We wanted the chapters, as well as the book as a whole, to benefit from collaboration between scholars and practitioners, and to engage the country’s most accomplished authors on their specialized topics. We endeavoured to include academics from all New Zealand’s universities, and to ensure interdisciplinary perspectives. The list of authors thus includes scholars from Auckland, Victoria, Massey, Waikato, and Otago, who teach across the fields of economics, education, environment, government, health, information sciences, labour, law, political theory, public policy, restorative justice, social work, and sociology. It was also important for us to include both government and non-government perspectives, and to ensure that the book reflected awareness of New Zealand’s demographic and cultural context.


Q6: What was your process for working together on this, especially during a particularly difficult year?

The book was conceived and developed through consultation. In 2018 we approached the authors of Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand (Christine Cheyne, Mike O’Brien and Michael Belgrave) as well as academics who were using that book as the text for social policy and social work courses in universities around New Zealand, to seek their views on updating the 2008 4th edition. This suggestion was eagerly agreed to and we invited those who were interested to a writers’ workshop at the School of Government in Wellington in 2019. That consultation helped us realize that the project was not to ‘update’ the 4th edition but to produce a new volume that reflected the changed policy environment. Authors came together around topics of shared interest and produced drafts through 2019. When Covid-19 conditions prevented us coming together for a final author’s workshop, consultations continued online.


Q7: What are some key trends that have emerged in social policy process or practice in recent years?

What is of particular concern is the downward trend in environmental, social and economic indicators almost across the board. It seems that we are unable to get in front of these trends. This suggests that there is a need for a radically different approach to social policy. This book contains suggestions about the key dimensions of this new approach, but still in a disjointed way.


Q8: Was there anything that came as a surprise, or is perhaps of particular concern?

What is desperately needed is a coordinated and integrated approach to environmental, social and economic policies. Although government has indicated a willingness to move toward ‘open government’, and toward making government information and decision-making processes more transparent, more progress can be made concerning ‘open data’.


Q9: This book is about social policy in Aotearoa – where do we sit relative to other countries in our social policy practice?

As John Gould highlighted in his book The Rake’s Progress many years ago, when it comes to social and economic trends (and now environmental trends as well), New Zealand tends to follow the rest of the world with a 10–15 year lag. The challenges we are facing in New Zealand are very similar to what is going on around the world. Relative to the countries that we tend to compare ourselves with (primarily members of the OECD), our policy practices are middle of the road. We have a lot to learn from some of the practices in the Scandinavian countries as well as the United Kingdom.


Q10: What are the issues for social policy in Aotearoa?

The failure of public policy in general (including social policy) in continuing to improve the lives of all New Zealand citizens, as highlighted in Chapter 1, provides the broader background and context for this new book. Covid-19 has shone the light on, as well as further widening the gap, between the living standards of New Zealanders. In doing so, it has increased the urgency of addressing this widening gap in the well-being of our citizens. It has alerted policy-makers to the need to adopt an integrated approach to environmental, social and economic policies, paying particular attention to cultural differences and sensitivities. The increasing availability of both granular data and the capability to analyse it to improve the effectiveness of social policy provide exciting prospects for the effectiveness of social policy. Another major development has been the realisation that to design and implement social policy in a way that has enduring positive impacts, we must involve everyone (especially those that these policies are targeted at) at all stages of the policy making and implementation process.